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ACE president’s weekly email newsletter to higher education leaders

CURRENT EDITION September 14, 2018 ~ Vol. 19, No. 26

Before I begin this week, I want to extend my thoughts to all of you whose campuses are in the path of Hurricane Florence. I know there may be days and weeks ahead of repairs and cleanup needed for large parts of the Carolinas and other communities that will be impacted by this storm. ACE has often helped before—such as with Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey—and will stand ready to be of assistance in the aftermath.

The higher education policy news in Washington this week revolved around the Department of Education’s continuing efforts on deregulation. I have updates on the efforts surrounding two rules that directly impact our students: gainful employment and borrower defense to repayment. Congress continues work on appropriations for the upcoming fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. While there is still talk of a shutdown, House and Senate negotiators seem confident that they can complete their patchwork plan for the 12 bills needed to fund the federal government before the deadline. Details below.

  •  ACE, Higher Education Groups Ask Education Department Not to Eliminate Gainful Employment Regulations
    ​The Department of Education (ED) announced last month that it would rescind the Obama administration’s gainful employment rule, which penalized certain higher education programs that graduated students with too much debt relative to their earnings. Along with 21 other higher education groups, we submitted comments yesterday on this proposal, advising ED to revise rather than eliminate the existing rule.

    The 2014 rule, while not perfect, addressed a serious problem and was targeted where the abuse occurred and where the department had clear statutory authority to act. As we said in our comments, we believe using statutory authority to take administrative actions to curb documented patterns of abuse is a necessary and appropriate role for the department. It is particularly concerning that ED is proposing to rescind the existing rule prior to developing a viable alternative, as this approach will leave a meaningful gap that could hurt students.
  •  Judge Rules Against Rollback of Borrower Defense Regulation
    ​In another development in ED’s efforts to reduce or eliminate regulations, a federal judge Wednesday ruled against Secretary Betsy DeVos in a lawsuit accusing the department of illegally delaying the Obama-era regulation that would discharge student loans for borrowers who were victims of fraud or misrepresentation by their institutions.

    Attorneys general from 19 states and the District of Columbia filed the lawsuit against the secretary after the department began the process of rolling back the so-called borrower defense rules, which were set to take effect on July 1, 2017. ED blocked the rule last year and has proposed a replacement. If you’ll remember, last week we filed comments on the new draft rule, which we believe would eliminate accountability for the worst actors, incentivizing practices we know to be harmful to students. In his decision, U.S. District Court Judge Randolph Moss called ED’s attempts to delay the original rule “unlawful,” “arbitrary and capricious,” and “procedurally invalid.”

    Moss has scheduled a hearing for today, Sept. 14, to address remedies for the situation. Regardless of the results of that hearing, ED can address any order in a variety of ways and will undoubtedly appeal the ruling.
  •  FY 2019 Appropriations Update
    ​Congress continued working to approve at least nine of the 12 annual appropriations bills before the FY 2018 fiscal year ends Sept. 30. Conferees met yesterday to negotiate remaining differences in the Labor-Health and Human Services-Education funding measure (H.R. 6157). We believe the bill’s higher education provisions will include an increase to the maximum value of the Pell Grant to $6,195 and a $2 billion increase for the National Institutes of Health that were part of the Senate’s bill. The legislation also appropriates $350 million to fund an eligibility fix for borrowers seeking Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

    The Senate voted 92-5 Wednesday to approve a $147 billion “minibus” package (H.R. 6147) that bundles three spending bills—military construction and veterans’ affairs, legislative branch, and energy and water—into one. The bill now goes to the House for consideration before going to the White House for President Trump's signature.

    Work on the remaining FY 2019 spending bills may be delayed until after the midterm elections in November, so Congress will have to approve a short-term measure to fund those agencies and programs at FY 2018 funding levels before Sept. 30. It does not appear at this point that the final spending bills will be derailed by President Trump’s demand to fund his proposed border wall. But it also does not seem likely that Congress will forge an agreement, at least before the mid-term elections, to pass legislation permanently protecting Dreamers as part of the appropriations process. We will keep pushing for Congress to act to take these individuals out of an unacceptable political and legal limbo.
  •  Work Continues on Security Issues Over China’s Relationship With U.S. Higher Education
    ​The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars this week released a report on China’s relationships with U.S. higher education. “A Preliminary Study of PRC Political Influence and Interference Activities in American Higher Education” found that the challenges posed by the Chinese government’s “influence activities” at U.S. universities are real, but that our institutions are well-equipped to manage these challenges, especially if they work collaboratively with each other and with federal agencies charged with protecting national security. Because of these concerns and as a way to help our members respond to inquiries, I sent a letter over the summer to member presidents whose institutions have Confucius Institutes, recommending best practices moving forward.

    These issues continue to be critical, and we are continuing discussions with congressional and administration officials on how best to address the growing security concerns. I recently participated in a meeting with the House Committee on Science, Space, & Technology in a follow up to the April 11 hearing on “Scholars and Spies: Foreign Plots Targeting America’s Research and Development” and the letter we sent to the FBI regarding the dissolution of the National Security Higher Education Advisory Board.

    As a result of that letter, we have been working closely with our higher education association colleagues and the FBI to continue this dialogue. Next week, the FBI will convene a summit with higher education leaders, FBI leadership, and representatives from federal science agencies. I also will be participating in that meeting and will report back next week on the discussion.
  •  IN BRIEF: Executive Forum for Leading Internationalization
    ​Many campuses are integrating technology into their internationalization strategies, whether into curricula, institutional partnerships, or student mobilization. For those of you looking to utilize technology to produce more accessible, affordable, and scalable global opportunities, please consider bringing your team of chief academic officers, chief data information and technology officers, and senior international officers to the Executive Forum for Leading Internationalization on Nov. 1, in Washington, DC. Click here​ to find out more.​
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